Melissa Read Memorial Scholarship Essay #3


Applicant Tyler Whitney

What I Learned from the Worst Financial Decision I Have Made


Walt Disney said, “I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young.” I cherish my failures more than my accomplishments because they help me to avoid the danger of complacency inherent in success. For better or for worse, I have an abnormally large reservoir of failure to draw from. In response to the essay prompt, the worst financial calculations I have ever made were not active decisions, but sins of omission. The most obscenely ill-advised financial decision I have ever made was neglecting my education and finances throughout high school.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink; the old saying applies to few as well as it applies to me. It’s not as if the water wasn’t all around me; the model of the American dream is conspicuously present in the story of every winner. “I didn’t have any handouts. No one ever did anything for me. I worked hard. I didn’t quit. I didn’t doubt myself. I committed, I shed sweat, blood, and tears to get here, and now here I am.” I heard it so often when I was young that I tuned it out. If only I had heeded it just a little. As it is, I took the much easier and much more dangerous path.

While living in China, my dad’s company paid for us kids, (four in all), to attend a prestigious private school for foreigners called the International School of Beijing. A tremendous opportunity! State of the art facilities, outstanding teachers, and more opportunities than any student could take full advantage of. The school’s entire system was geared to helping you succeed. For the two years I attended there, I was surrounded by pure ambition, intelligence, drive, and diversity. One thing was absolutely clear to everyone there but myself: these years matter. To this day, I sometimes wonder what a fool I must have seemed to my peers and the faculty. Ninety-eight percent of my classmates earned an IB diploma. My classmates were all accepted into the most prestigious universities and programs in the west. I know of two classmates that now make six figure salaries. Many people who were given the exact same opportunities as me are now living the dream of financial security and freedom. However, I remained oblivious to the future. I spent my time with frivolous entertainments, pursuing unwise and harmful habits, feeding fantasies and day dreams that swirled around me in a violent, self-absorbed psychosis.

Fast forward past a lazy semester at a school in Idaho, an ill-advised gap semester and an apathy-driven two-year mission for a church I’m not sure I believe in. Now I attend Utah State University. One day in class, I had a very late and very needed revelation. It came to me all at once; I have no driver’s license. I have only worked one job for the two months before this semester started. I was only just now starting my second semester of college at a school I had never wanted to attend, and aside from a small knack for the Mandarin language, I had no special skills. Worst of all, I had no one to blame but myself. For twenty years, I had been my own worst enemy, sabotaged by my own lack of self-control, wisdom, or ambition. My life was a cocktail for impressive attainment. Opportunity and materials for success were handed to me everywhere I went, and the only missing ingredient was me.

The most impactful lessons are often the harshest. I am so fortunate that I was able to learn a lesson at all. Life couldn’t teach me through poverty, it didn’t reach me through disaster or through physical pain. I learned this lesson the only way I could – through education. I had to go through the pain of first-time humility before I could get back on track. These days, not an hour goes by that I don’t kick myself in the pants for those years well wasted. Three lessons in particular stick out to me.

The first lesson is that there is no alternative to hard work. Before this semester, I was delusional, thinking that one day I would be discovered, or that I would get lucky like those “other successful people”. Now I know the pleasure of work well-done, of sweating over the details and caring about the things I do. I’ve presented at two conferences this semester and was actually praised for my work. I have maintained straight A’s, which is unheard of for me. I went to a debate tournament and actually did well. I spend any free time on self-improvement and achievement instead of the internet and video games. I used to daydream about accolades and recognition while doing nothing to pursue them. Now my new status symbol is my grades, my savings account, and my CV.

The second lesson is that pain is gain. I used to be sedentary, and I would quit trying the moment things became hard. Now I exercise and am encouraged by discomfort. I enjoy sacrificing time and fun in favor of studying and applying to jobs. Long hours of focus are my new hobby. Pain is the currency that life extracts in exchange for quality and character. You might even say we purchase our future with blood. But we needn’t slit our hands open – the payment we must give up comes in the form of our habits, our ignorance, and most of all our effort.

The last and perhaps most important take away from these last few months has been this; you can either daydream or you can have your dream. I am not ignorant of the fact that many people do not achieve their dreams, despite their best efforts. What I hope to convey is that happiness can be had now. It comes at the expense of knowing I’ve done all I can, that I’ve earned the success I now enjoy, and that I am living in accordance with my principles. It comes from living in the moment while being mindful of the future.

My financial future looks perilous and uncertain, and yet opportunity still abounds. Even today, this semester has been paid for by the GI Bill benefits my dad earned through military service. I live in the United States of America, where although it may sound cheesy, anything really is possible for those who know how to pay the price. I have parents who are loving and supportive to a fault, and siblings who encourage one another and go to great efforts to see each other fulfilled. Everything is working to my advantage, whereas thousands have succeeded when everything was working against them. I have always had no excuse not to succeed. The only difference is that now, I understand this.

[Tom: This essay really touched my heart. Most high Income parents try to give their kids a great start with the advantages we have. Some kids have a very entitled attitude because all they have ever known is the advantages of a high income. It can be a real financial mistake to always take that privilege for granted. I’m glad to see Tyler is making the most of the opportunities he has now.]

Tom is a doctor, husband and father of five with a passion for parenting and finance. When he isn't skateboarding, riding BMX, or jumping on the trampoline with his kids, he is reading and writing about personal finance. He helps high income parents educate and mentor their kids to become financially, emotionally, and intellectually self sufficient.

2 Responses to “Melissa Read Memorial Scholarship Essay #3

  • “I had to go through the pain of first-time humility before I could get back on track.”

    This lesson will be invaluable for Tyler in several ways! Going through a humbling event or realization is a real wake up call. Its hard, it hurts, and its embarrassing. But the big lesson (which Tyler seems to be doing well with!) is that he needs to take that “kick in the pants” to better himself and change his habits so that he does not repeat the same actions that got him into the humbling situation in the first place.

  • This is an all too familiar cautionary tale for kids of HIP. Good luck, Tyler. Your epiphany will serve you well into the future.

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